He calls it ‘not so much a work of research as a reflection of 30 years of remembered tradition’ and Petworth historian Peter Jerrome’s intriguingly titled Peter Dead Drunk does not disappoint.
His mission was to set down memories of events and traditions, now lost in time, which made up the tapestry of life in Petworth and the surrounding area.
He has done so by revisiting conversations he has collected in more than 30 years of the Petworth Society’s quarterly magazine and reproducing priceless photographs.
They include one of the very earliest Sutton revels, the well-known figure of Ted Binstead delivering bread with his handcart, Petworth fire brigade in action during the l914 to 1918 war at a fire at Frog Farm and Market Square in the reign of Queen Victoria.
Under 36 headings from ‘bread’ and ‘milk’ to ‘cinema’, ‘church’, ‘strangers’ and ‘apples’, he paints a picture of yesteryear.
And ‘Christmas’ recalls a time when for many, although there were not tables laden with food there were a wealth of happy memories. These included the legendary children’s party at Petworth House which still takes place today, hosted by Lord and Lady Egremont.
Reflecting on Christmas at the turn of the century, Mrs Newman, born shortly before 1900, recalled: “Money was not plentiful and people worked hard for the small wages received, but I remember them as being much happier and much more laughter was heard.
“Christmas was looked forward to, right from the first dark evening. Each day, as tea was cleared, out would come material to make various gifts for family and friends.”
Mrs Mant, wife of the Petworth solicitor, knew only too well the hardships in the town.
She was one of the members of St Mary’s church, given a ‘district’ to take under their wing.
Her daughter Dolly, later recalled: “The Christmas my father died he had bought blankets for mother to give out to the district at Christmas, but he said to her, ‘it’s so cold, they ought to have them before Christmas.’ They did, but he died on December 20.”
Ethel Place, daughter of the well-known wood carver at Petworth House, Harry Hoad, was over 100 years old when she died some 20 years ago.
She recalled her particularly happy Christmas of 1899: “Besides the usual orange, apple and pink sugar mouse, I found in my black woollen stocking two dolls, a box of crayons and a rolled-up drawing book and a pretty beaded purse with a little gold chain handle and, wonder of wonders, a whole silver shilling! To crown all this wealth my father had made me a lovely doll’s pram, like the new kind that were coming into fashion.”
But the highlight for many children was the party at Petworth House for estate workers and dependants’ children.
Recalling pre-war parties Ethel said they had tea at long trestle tables and played games before being called into the hall with its huge candle-lit Christmas tree. “With Lady Leconfield at one side with the girls and Lord Leconfield with the boys, they would call our names and Father Christmas would give us our presents.”
Kath Vigar recalled the first Christmas after the 1918 war.
“The tables were laid out with every goody imaginable. Never had we seen such food, as the war had been on so many years. There were sandwiches and cakes, jellies and pastes of every description.”
n Peter Dead Drunk is available from the Window Press, Trowels, Pound Street, Petworth or phone Mr Jerrome on 01798 342562 or contact Petworth Bookshop.